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March 28, 2021
On the surface, our Palm Sunday celebration today seems to be simply enhancing the décor of the sanctuary and singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” as we set up the beginning of Holy Week. But what we celebrate, or commemorate, is really one of the most politically challenging actions that Jesus took in his ministry.
At the time Mark’s gospel was written, which was in about the year 70, the Christian community was wondering what to do. It was after the Great Revolt, and they weren’t sure if they should stick together and hold onto their faith – or if they should try to align themselves more with Rome in order to survive. They didn’t know.
And Mark’s answer to their situation was this gospel – this account of Jesus’ life. And through it, he encouraged Christians to find a leader that would resist the Roman Empire; someone who would be consistent with the old Jewish practices, and represent a way going forward of power through the horror of the cross and all the tensions created when we see a king who is crucified.
In his account, Mark reminds us that, in Jesus, we get a leader – a king – that we don’t expect. Because in Jesus, we get the king we need.
And where that really begins to become clear is on that first Palm Sunday. Because when Jesus rode into town, that whole scene mocked and ridiculed the typical military parades of that time. It made fun of the Roman government, the political regime that was in power.
The Mount of Olives was the location from which people expected the final battle for Jerusalem’s liberation would begin. And that is where Jesus began his “final campaign.” But the supplies he used weren’t weapons of war but simply a colt. Not even a full-grown donkey.
He arrived in the city with great acclamation. The people greeted him like they would any victorious military ruler. Except that Jesus wasn’t a military ruler. He was unarmed, riding an animal that was probably too small for him to be on, in a parade that was meant to expose the pretentiousness of the “powers that be.” And the people recognized that for what it was and they thought it was fantastic!
Unlike other powers that had conquered Jerusalem in the past, Jesus forged a new path – a new way to change the world. He came as someone who humbly rejected domination, and who identified with the poor. He was vulnerable and refused to rely on violence to get his way. He embodied a different understanding of power and invited the people to see and live in the world in a new way.
Everyone who cheered for him that day was on board with it – until they realized that he meant it – until they realized that’s who he really was.
When people realized that Jesus really wasn’t the kind of ruler – or king – they wanted or expected, they weren’t quite as enamored with him. Their change in attitude was starting to become clear on the night Jesus was anointed in Simon’s home. In a matter of a few days, Jesus went from being celebrated and acclaimed to being mocked and humiliated. And by the end of the week, he was dead.
Jesus wasn’t the type of king the people expected or wanted. He was the type of king that they needed. He was God’s type of king.
Looking back on the events of that day from our perspective, it’s easy for us to see the differences between the people’s expectations and hopes of Jesus in contrast to who he actually was. And it’s easy to think, “Oh we aren’t like them – we get it. We know who Jesus was.”
But in reality, our expectations aren’t always that far removed from what theirs were. Sure, we talk about Jesus’ humility and the characteristics he embodied and asks us to live into – and we do strive to live according to his way.
But we often put limits on it – for example, we only do it for certain people or only when it’s convenient. But Jesus is God’s type of king – and that knows no boundaries.
As Christians, when we tell the story of who Jesus is for us, we don’t normally tell it from the perspective of an event like Palm Sunday. We usually tell it from the perspective of the Resurrection – another celebration. It’s difficult for us to tell it any other way, because without the resurrection our faith is incomplete.
But if we don’t take seriously events like Palm Sunday and also the cross, and what they mean for our lives, then our faith is still incomplete and Easter Sunday is nothing more than an excuse to have another party.
Because when we consider that Palm Sunday exposes the suffering and all that is wrong in the world, and that we believe the cross of Jesus represents the suffering of all human beings and it’s the burden that Jesus identified with and took upon himself…
…when we consider all of that – as Christians, as people who follow Jesus, we recognize that we’re called to go to the cross to stand in solidarity with all who suffer for any reason.
Last Sunday, the community of Grace Chinese Lutheran Church in Seattle found what they describe as a “devastating and horrible act of racism and anti-Asian messaging” written on their church parking lot. While the pastors and people who worship there recognize that that message of racial hatred doesn’t represent their neighborhood, it doesn’t diminish the fact that it brought great pain to their hearts.
They have received words of support and solidarity from people in the community, so they know they aren’t in this alone. But we all know that what was done to them should never have happened in the first place.
When we stand at the cross in solidarity with people who are suffering, we don’t just stand there to offer thoughts and prayers and then walk away.
When we stand at the cross in solidarity with people who are suffering, we remember whose type of king Jesus is and enter into their suffering with them. We meet them wherever they are and accompany them. We walk with them when they experience hateful and racist acts, and speak out against those things to keep them from happening to someone else.
When people are suffering, we accompany them through every kind of life situation – unemployment and underemployment, family crises, medical diagnoses, and doctor’s appointments. We become experts on the cause of their suffering and advocate for them when necessary, seeing them through to the end – whatever that may be and for however long it takes.
When we remember that Jesus is God’s type of king, it changes us. It frees us from our expectations of him and gives us the courage to live into love and compassion and mercy and grace and forgiveness all the time, not just when we’re around certain people or when it’s convenient.
It carries us through what happens in the days following Palm Sunday, sustaining us through the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – holding us as we wait on Holy Saturday. Showing us that the Day of Resurrection isn’t just another reason to have a party but, rather, a true celebration of who Jesus really is.
Because the Jesus we celebrate today and ever day is God’s type of king – the king we need him to be. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 This theological understanding and background of the Liturgy of the Palms taken from Feasting on the Word, Sixth Sunday of Lent, Year B, Vol. 2.